MANAMA, Bahrain — Since the lifting two months ago of a longstanding U.S. ban on gays serving openly in the military, U.S. Marines across the globe have adapted smoothly and embraced the change, says their top officer, Gen. James F. Amos, who previously had argued against repealing the ban during wartime.
“I’m very pleased with how it has gone,” Amos said in an Associated Press interview during a week-long trip that included four days in Afghanistan, where he held more than a dozen town hall-style meetings with Marines of virtually every rank. He was asked about a wide range of issues, from his view of the Marine Corps’ future to more mundane matters such as why he recently decided to stop allowing Marines to wear their uniform with the sleeves rolled up.
Not once was he asked in Afghanistan about the repeal of the gay ban.
Nor did it come up when he fielded questions from Marines on board the USS Bataan warship in the Gulf of Aden on Saturday. On his final stop, in Bahrain on Sunday, one Marine broached the topic gently. He asked Amos whether he planned to change the Marines’ current policy of leaving it to the discretion of local commanders to determine how to handle complaints about derogatory “homosexual remarks or actions.” Amos said no.
The apparent absence of angst about gays serving openly in the Marines seemed to confirm Amos’ view that the change has been taken in stride, without hurting the war effort.
In the AP interview, he offered an anecdote to make his point. He said that at the annual ball in Washington earlier this month celebrating the birth of the Marine Corps, a female Marine approached Amos’s wife, Bonnie, and introduced herself and her lesbian partner.
“Bonnie just looked at them and said, `Happy birthday ball. This is great. Nice to meet you,'” Amos said. “That is happening throughout the Marine Corps.”
Amos said he is aware of only one reported incident in Afghanistan thus far, and that turned out to be a false alarm. He said a blogger had written of a gay Marine being harassed by fellow Marines for his sexual orientation. In an ensuing investigation, the gay Marine denied he had been harassed.
A Defense Department spokeswoman, Cynthia O. Smith, said implementation of the repeal of the gay ban is proceeding smoothly across the military.
“We attribute this success to our comprehensive pre-repeal training program, combined with the continued close monitoring and enforcement of standards by our military leaders at all levels,” Smith said.
In the months leading up to Congress’s repeal, which took effect in September, there were indications that the change might not be embraced so readily.
During a visit to a Marine combat outpost in southern Afghanistan in June, then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates was confronted by an enlisted Marine who clearly objected to the repeal. He told Gates that the Marine Corps has “a set of standards and values that is better than that of the civilian sector,” and that repeal of the gay ban has “changed those values.”
He asked Gates whether Marines who object to serving with gays would be allowed to opt out of their enlistment. Gates said no and predicted that if pre-repeal training was done right, “nothing will change” with regard to rules of behavior and discipline.
That Marine was not alone in making known his doubts about the wisdom of allowing gays to serve openly in uniform. In a survey of military members last year, 45 percent of Marines viewed repeal negatively in terms of how it could affect combat readiness, effectiveness and cohesion. Among those Marines who serve in combat roles, 56 percent expressed that view.
It was those statistics that caused Amos concern prior to repeal, and he made known his position in no uncertain terms when he testified to Congress last December.
“Successfully implementing repeal and assimilating openly homosexual Marines into the tightly woven fabric of our combat units has strong potential for disruption at the small unit level as it will no doubt divert leadership attention away from an almost singular focus on preparing units for combat,” Amos said at the time. He stressed then and later that if repeal were approved, Marines would faithfully follow the new law.
Looking back, Amos said in the AP interview that he had no regrets about publicly opposing repeal during wartime. He said he was obliged, as the commandant of the Marines, to set aside his personal opinions and represent the views of those combat Marines who told the survey “pretty unequivocally” that repeal was problematic.
“I think I did exactly what I should have done,” he said.